Sunday, May 30th, 2010
For decades Harrisburg has been the target of citizen outrage and protest against the way state legislators operate unethically. But, as Chris Satullo says in his weekly essay, a recent grand jury investigation might give voters a chance to do something about it.
A group of Pennsylvania citizens recently got an in-depth look at how their state legislature does business.
They've not yet stopped sputtering in amazement and indignation.
Unfortunately for the coddled, cynical lawmakers of Harrisburg, these 23 citizens were not just a random group on a tour bus. They were a state investigating grand jury, with the power to subpoena and indict.
Suboena and indict they have, with style. This grand jury, and its predecessor, have indicted 25 people all told, including five sitting or former lawmakers. The charges mostly involved using taxpayer money to fund political campaigning.
This grand jury gave the Commonwealth a parting gift last week. It was a 34-page cry of outrage against the many ways in which the partisan sultans of the Susquehanna waste millions in public money, as they swaddle themselves in creature comforts and perpetual incumbency. All this, while they cut state spending on day care, health insurance, schools and parks.
The grand jury was just stunned at how the legislature is divided into four partisan fiefdoms called caucuses, each with its own bloated staff and slush funds. An example: Each party caucus has its own print shop to crank out leaflets and newsletters, mostly for partisan purposes, costing taxpayers more than $3 mill a year.
Surveying this sorry landscape, the grand jury said: Blow it up.
Since the General Assembly has proven it can't reform itself, the jurors called for a limited constitutional convention to fix what ails it.
The jurors had plenty of smaller ideas, such as: Give staffers ethics training. (They get none). Cut bloated staffs, and close excess district offices.
And a lot more. Some of the jurors' ideas are a bit naive – but they all flow out well-earned shock at just how arrogant Harrisburg has become.
This report is bracing and overdue. Is it enough to get Harrisburg to change?
Not without you, the voter. You hold the real hammer, people. This fall, the entire House and a third of the Senate is up for re-election. Ask the candidates in your district which of the grand jury reforms they support. If you don't like their answers, then just don't vote for them.